Reluctantly, I push the pedals. I am off to visit Bas, a university friend with a real job. What am I saying is: with a real life. Bas has a permanent contract, recently starting living with his girlfriend and doesn't work at the weekend. And me? I fritter my time away doing all kinds of statistical tests, live in a shared student house and my relationship broke up a couple of months ago.
It is a spacious apartment. Bas proudly shows me the new bedroom, taking care to explicitly mention the skirting board. ‘And the wooden floor wasn't expensive at all.’ I yawn surreptitiously. ‘And how are you doing?’ asks Bas. I swallow. ‘Yeah, fine, great,’ I stammer. ‘Good,’ says Bas. Asking probing questions has never been his strong suit.
We continue the tour into the kitchen. Bas opens the fridge. ‘Honey, can you buy tomatoes tomorrow?’ he calls in a sugary voice. ‘Will do,’ replies his girlfriend just as sweetly. She always does the grocery shopping on Wednesday.
‘So what's your life together actually like?’ I ask. ‘It's terrific,’ says Bas. ‘We are together most evenings. I tend to do DIY jobs, she does the housework. My work is going well too, and I can get there by bike.’ A long list of organizational facts about their perfect life together follows. ‘So everything is ticking along nicely, just as it should,’ decides Bas. I am speechless.
‘And do you talk about feelings?’ I ask after a long silence. Bas looks at me uncomprehendingly. ‘Sure,’ he says. ‘When she's made a really delicious dinner, I always tell her so.’
Smiling to myself, I push the pedals. Perhaps my life isn't so bad after all.
Stijn van Gils (28) is doing doctoral research on ecosystem services in agriculture. Every month he describes his struggles with the scientific system.